How fit is your team for the workload it has to bear? Whilst workplace Health and Safety rules cover expectations around how employees complete physical tasks, what about mental wellbeing and safety?

Unlike the physical activities employees are tasked with while they’re at work, mental work doesn’t necessarily stop the minute they leave the workplace.

“Technology can connect us to work 24/7 if we allow it, so people need the skills to switch off,” warns Dr Laura Kirby, a Director and Principal Psychologist of CommuniCorp Group. “We need time to slow down and to disconnect. Both are really important for us to keep psychologically well.”

Dr Kirby draws the parallel with physical work where we expect breaks to rest muscles and replenish our bodies with food, water and sleep.

“Brain based work not only engages our thinking, it also engages our emotions and affects our physiological response, which can create additional stress,” she explains. “We need to build up that recovery yet we’re not necessarily giving our brains the chance.

“When I’m training within organisations I ask them ‘What are the first words you associate with mental health?’ and naturally the responses are things like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. Then I ask about physical health and typically the responses are positive things like ‘exercise’ and ‘nutrition’.

It’s interesting to see the contrast, and I think we need to take a similar approach to how we think and act with respect to mental health. We need to talk about it more, and act on it more so that ‘What can we do to be well?’ becomes an everyday conversation.

The business case for investing in better mental health

A general measure of the value of an investment should take into account not only the return, but also the savings. According to Dr Kirby, an investment in improving your organisation’s mental health can deliver on both counts.

If we don’t support people’s mental health and wellbeing we continue to expose ourselves to psychological injury and illness, which, she notes, are on the rise.

“We’re potentially increasing the level of risk in forward engagement costs, and staff turnover can be very costly.”

“Then there is good evidence that high performing teams are made up of people that feel supported and are more resilient. If we’ve got a psychologically safer and mentally healthier workforce we get better productivity, better bottom line, and better social outcome from the work we’re engaging in.”

People offer so much more when they’re in that kind of environment,” she concludes.

Dr Kirby suggests three things managers can do to support team wellbeing:

1. Model healthy behaviours

Make it clear everyone needs time to allow their brain to recover both during and outside of work; to have downtime and to engage with friends and family. Make it a point to stop doing work and switch off work technology to give you that balance.

2. Check in with your people about workplace stress

When someone is having a bad day, checking in can really help – and that’s much easier when people feel comfortable enough to share. Allowing that connection and social support helps get us through some of the challenges that we experience.

3. Offer support proactively

Try to notice the signs someone might be in high stress. Knowing the whole person, not just the work person, makes the conversation easier when you see changes. Ask open ended questions about how they’re travelling and allow them to speak about what’s happening so you can then work with them to establish what might help.

SuperFriend services and resources you can use

Employers that choose AustralianSuper also benefit through our partnerships with expert providers such as SuperFriend, which aims to help create mentally healthy workplaces. Here are some of SuperFriend’s popular programs:

  • Wellbeing Works is a 90 minute sponsored assessment of an organisation’s strengths, areas for development and strategies towards improving mental health and wellbeing within the workplace.
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing Training for staff and managers provides employees with the confidence, skills, strategies and tools to ensure they are supported, safe and productive at work.
  • SuperFriend’s Work In Progress survey gives a snapshot of the state of workplace mental health and wellbeing in Australia. First published in 2015, it shares evidence for investing in the mental health of workers, including enhanced productivity, employee performance and satisfaction at work. Importantly, the report presents essential actions for employers and managers to support employees to be their best at work.
  • Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace – Guidelines for Organisations is a publication developed by SuperFriend in collaboration with researchers at Deakin University and the University of Melbourne.
  • Managing Bereavement, Grief and Loss is a 20-minute, e-learning module which gives employees the skills and confidence to support a colleague through grief and loss, to reduce the impact of loss and create greater connectedness in the workplace.